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Latest cyberattack on health care system has Illinois hospitals on edge

According to the Institute for Security and Technology, about 300 hospitals have suffered ransomware attacks this year alone.

Published: December 1, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

Hospital systems in Illinois and around the country continue to be attacked by cyber criminals.

According to the Institute for Security and Technology, about 300 hospitals have suffered ransomware attacks this year alone. Cyber experts say hackers typically see health care organizations as a prime target because hospitals are likely to pay ransom to keep critical health services up and running.

The latest incident involved Ardent Health Services, which said the Thanksgiving day attack affected 30 hospitals and more than 200 health care sites across six states. Patients were diverted to other hospitals and some surgeries were postponed.

A ransomware attack in 2021 eventually led to the closure of St. Margaret’s Health in Spring Valley and Peru, Illinois, earlier this year. Officials said the attack impacted the hospitals' ability to collect payments from insurers for services rendered, and forced the shutdown of the hospitals' IT network, email systems and its electronic medical records portal.

Charlie Regan, CEO of the cyber security company Nerds On Site, said a foreign government is most likely behind many of the attacks.

“Cyber criminals trying to get into any network or system are incredibly well-funded and incredibly well-orchestrated, and they have a never-ending source of more creative and effective tools to breach systems,” Regan said.

Regan’s company, with several Illinois locations, offers defenses against ransomware for small and medium businesses.

“Whoever winds up getting in, and little critters will find ways to get into your system, it is making certain that they are not able to get anything out,” Regan said.

Last May, Illinois was among the governments and private companies worldwide that were exposed when cyber criminals exploited a widely used third-party transfer system called MOVEit.

Within minutes of the attack on May 31, the Illinois Department of Innovations and Technology said it took immediate action, disconnected all associated systems that utilized the third-party software, and engaged its security incident response team to conduct a forensic analysis.

Last month, cybers experts from around the world gathered to confront the ransomware surge.

The Biden administration's message to private companies is to not pay the ransoms and also disclose the attacks in order to help government enforcement efforts that focus on the attackers who often prefer to operate in secret.

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